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Poll Indicates That 57% of Millionaires Favor Keeping or Reforming the Estate Tax

According to an April 11, 2006 press release from Responsible Wealth, fifty-seven percent of respondents to a poll of millionaires said they favored keeping or reforming the federal estate tax while only 23 percent favored repeal.

BOSTON — As the Senate prepares for a May vote on estate tax repeal, increased budget deficits and a more educated public are spurring greater numbers to join a movement begun by some of America’s millionaires in 2001 to keep the federal estate tax. A new national poll shows that 57% prefer keeping the tax as is or reforming it. Only 23% favor repealing the tax. The number favoring preservation or reform rises to 68% when respondents learn more information about the estate tax, with 23% again favoring repeal.

“For several years now, I have publicly stated my conviction that we must preserve the estate tax,” said Agnes Gund, former president of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and a leading philanthropist. “It’s a fair tax on those who can best afford it, it contributes greatly to our nation’s treasury, and it encourages Americans to give to charitable institutions. I am glad to see more people now agree the tax should be kept.”

“The estate tax has been with us for 90 years, brings in fairly large amounts of revenue at fairly low cost, and affects less than one-third of one percent of the population,” said Sheldon Cohen, tax attorney and former Commissioner of the IRS. “Why would we change this?”

The telephone survey poll of 910 registered voters was conducted February 26, 2006 by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc. The poll has both national results and specific results for Arkansas, Arizona, Maine, Montana, Ohio and Oregon. Following is a summary of poll results (see the full poll at http://www.coalition4americaspriorities.com):

  • American voters do not want to see the estate tax repealed
  • The more information voters learn about the estate tax, the more they oppose repeal
  • Voters place the estate tax at the bottom of the list of taxes that should be cut
  • Voters think one of the two best ways to reduce the budget deficit is to keep the estate tax
  • Voters would much prefer to see Congress use funds for a variety of purposes other than repealing the estate tax

Currently, only those who leave estates greater than $2 million, or $4 million for couples, must pay the tax. In 2006, it is estimated that 0.27% of all estates in the U.S. will pay estate tax, meaning 99.73% of Americans can pass 100% of their estates to heirs tax free. Repealing the estate tax is estimated to cost $1 trillion over the first ten years of full repeal.

“We are currently facing a large list of multi-billion-dollar obligations, including up to $1.3 trillion for the cost of the war in Iraq, $3.3 trillion in interest on the national debt, and $797 billion to pay for the Medicare drug benefit,” said Steven C. Rockefeller, chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. “To reduce the nation’s revenue stream by $1 trillion, which is the 10-year cost of repealing the estate tax, in order to enrich a small group of multi-millionaires and billionaires, is fiscally irresponsible and bad social policy. The estate tax could be reformed, but it should certainly be preserved and the revenue used to pay our national bills.”

Ms. Gund, and Mr. Rockefeller are signers of the Call to Preserve the Estate Tax, a project of Responsible Wealth (http://www.responsiblewealth.org) that was spearheaded by William Gates, Sr., head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and father of the Microsoft founder.

The following Responsible Wealth members are available to comment on the new poll and the upcoming Senate vote to repeal the estate tax. Please contact Christina Kasica at 617-423-2148, ext. 119, to arrange an interview.

DIANA ADAMSON owns a wheat, hay, and barley farm in Shelby, MT. She also owns the Creative Needle shop in Shelby.

RICHARD ADLER is a retired shipbuilding industry consultant from Louisiana who worked for Avondale Shipyard, now owned by Northrop Grumman. Hurricane Katrina forced him to evacuate his wind-damaged home for six weeks. He has substantial stock ownership and would benefit from estate tax repeal. Adler wants to see the estate tax updated, not obliterated, so that the government has funds for rebuilding the Gulf Coast and protecting it from future disasters without cutting food programs for the hungry and so that the growing federal deficit will not leave a terrible legacy of debt for coming generations.

ALICE CHENAULT, M.D., is a psychiatrist who is also a columnist for the Huntsville Times and a supporter of Alabama’s Arise Citizen’s Policy Project. She has been a small business owner, and lives in Huntsville with her husband and children.

HARRIET DENISON is a trustee and the Oregon administrator for the Ralph L Smith Foundation, endowed by her grandfather. Ralph Smith earned his fortune in the lumber business and started his foundation in 1959 in order to return his good fortune to the community, reasoning that his offspring had received enough money during his lifetime. Harriet is a member of Responsible Wealth and is an inheritor. What she doesn’t give during her lifetime will go to progressive nonprofits on her death.

DOUGLAS ERICKSON from Columbus, OH is the owner of Data, Applications & Technology Associates, a business that offers Enterprise Architecture services, including full life-cycle information systems planning, analysis, design, development and implementation services. Erickson is also a member of Responsible Wealth and expects to leave an estate that will pay the estate tax. Although Doug’s heirs would benefit from repeal of the estate tax, he opposes repeal or even any reduction of the estate tax because he thinks people like himself can and should pay this very fair tax, as an appropriate way to give back and create opportunities for others just as many others not of his family contributed to his opportunities.

G. WILLIAM FOSTER is the co-founder and former CEO of Electronic Theatre Controls Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of stage lighting equipment. He is a member of Responsible Wealth, a national network of businesspeople, investors and affluent Americans who are concerned about deepening economic inequality and are working for widespread prosperity. Following his career in business, he earned a PhD in physics from Harvard University and was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 2003. His daughter Christine, a student at Stanford University, also supports preserving the estate tax. Foster is a long-time resident of Chicago who recently moved to Washington, D.C.

ALAN GRAD is CEO and President of American Business & Professional Program, Inc., a Manhasset, New York-based firm. Grad has an undergraduate degree from the Wharton School and lives in Mamaroneck with his wife, Ellen, and their three children. The firm, established in 1965, serves over 35,000 clients in the areas of estate, pension, charitable and business planning, as well as advanced insurance analysis.

KATHERINE HARMEYER of Phoenix, AZ, is a private investor and securities arbitrator. She is a 1981 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law and has been a partner in a large Arizona law firm. Katherine has been active in community affairs and received the Maricopa County Bar Association award for outstanding pro bono service.

DARIUS A. ROSS is an African-American entrepreneur who has 19 years of experience in real estate sales, construction, acquisition and development. He is the founder and managing partner of D. Alexander Ross Real Estate Capital Interest, LLC, which is a boutique of high net worth investors involved in real estate private equity and commercial acquisitions. As well as Responsible Wealth, Ross is a member of Resource Generation, a patron of the Carnegie Hall Notables, and a donor to numerous charities in New York City, where he lives.

Responsible Wealth (www.responsiblewealth.org) is a national network of businesspeople, investors and affluent Americans who are concerned about deepening economic inequality and are working for widespread prosperity. Our primary areas of work are tax fairness and corporate responsibility.

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